From the stealthy jaguar to serene sea turtles, an alarming number of Brazilian animal species are threatened. Government and activist programs attempt to help and protect some of the more charismatic species, including monkeys, whales, turtles, great cats and predatory birds. But numerous lesser-known creatures are disappearing and any species, regardless of how insignificant it may seem, plays an irreplaceable role in the ecosystem. In all, Brazil has 339 threatened wildlife species, according to the 2006 Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN; www.iucnredlist.org). This includes 124 birds, the highest number of any country in the world. Humans may not care about the extinction of the Brazilian spiny rice rat or the bushy-tailed opossum, but if nothing else, they both occupy a spot in the food chain and their disappearance will forever affect the other plants and animals around them.
There are three main reasons for the extinction of Brazilian wildlife. Hunting is responsible for about 25% of extinction. Destruction of habitats accounts for around 36% of the loss. The least known yet most lethal cause of extinction is the introduction of competing species, which is responsible for some 39% of the destruction. Dogs, pigs, rats and lizards (not to mention humans) have wreaked havoc on untold thousands of smaller species.
Even if no one ever hunted a jaguar again it would still be at risk of extinction as it needs a huge amount of territory to hunt and a large gene pool for mating. Its reduced population and habitat may already mean the jaguar is on its way to existing only in zoos.
Sightings of endangered species are much sought by travelers interested in wildlife, but most are difficult if not impossible to spot. Some are found only in small reserves or specific parts of national parks.
Critically endangered mammals are the black-faced lion tamarin, the Brazilian arboreal mouse, the ring-tail monkey, Coimbra’s titi monkey, the golden-rumped lion tamarin, the Northern Bahian blond titi monkey and the northern muriqui (northern wooly spider monkey).
Other endangered mammals are the Brazilian spiny rice rat, the buffy-headed marmoset, Cleber’s arboreal rice rat, the giant armadillo, the giant otter, the golden-headed lion tamarin, the golden lion tamarin, the maned three-toed sloth, the pygmy short-tailed opossum, the Rio de Janeiro rice rat, the southern muriqui and the white-whiskered spider monkey.